Friday, June 16, 2017

I've Been through the Desert on a Horse with no Name...

Actually, after leaving the desert of southern New Mexico...

When I arrived in Mississippi a year ago, just as June got underway, I looked forward (with some trepidation) about what the summer and humidity would be like. I knew (intellectually) that even if the temperatures were not in the triple digits in the summer in Mississippi, the humidity would be in the high double digits and that it would be a different but just as uncomfortable heat—maybe worse. In the desert in the summer when it rains (and I might add at higher altitudes there) the rainfall can be cold, and after a good rain, the air is cool and there is a respite from the baking temperatures and relentless sun. I didn't think the rain would bring as much respite from the summer heat in Mississippi.

I've only lived through one complete summer here in Mississippi, and we're moving into my second summer. June has turned out to be hot and muggy, but I was delighted that a cloudy day and a little gentle rainfall does wonders in a different way than the rainfall in the summer in the desert. Yes, it feels wet after a rain, and no, even if the temps don't plummet nearly as far as after a cold desert rain, it can still be quite pleasant. So, I'll go with the hope that, unlike last summer, we get more rain. Last summer much of Mississippi suffered a drought, but as Fall came on and through the winter, the drought lifted. The worst day I can recall from last summer was when I traveled to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, in July to attend a book club meeting. I wouldn't have missed it, because they were discussing one of my novels. The sun was relentless that day, and the meeting took place in a strip shopping center in a Metropolitan Church meeting room. The L-shaped center faced right into the afternoon sun, and I can remember sucking in the hot, wet air before scurrying into the building.

There were also soul-sucking, muggy and hot days here in Columbus, when I stepped out of my air-conditioned car on my way into the post office, and thought, "yes, this is really miserable heat." But I'm really not complaining. I was grateful that I didn't have a job that required me to work out in the heat, and my heart went out to construction workers that were roofing a house or mowing the grass, and I hoped that they were getting plenty of water. Even here, I noticed that people seek the shade to park their cars under and pedestrians walk on the side of the street when they can to get under awnings or walk on the shady side of buildings. When I have to do yard work (now that I finally have my lawnmower and edger and other garden tools) I only do it in the mornings when it's not quite as hot or at dusk, just after sunset.

But this all adds up to the fact that if I made it through all four seasons last year, I can do it again this year. Winter was mild here, but not as mild as southern New Mexico. Even then I welcomed the rain and the clouds, but perhaps the very best difference between here and the desert of southwest New Mexico is the lack of incessant wind from the west, and a companion to that blessing is that here the dust doesn't blow non-stop and coat everything.

Now...about those tornadoes, warnings, and sirens...

Thanks America for your haunting lyrics

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Deconstructing the Past

Finding bones in the closet and other discoveries...

The demolition stage of the house that Cliff bought here in Columbus and my on-site work and viewing of the demolition has revealed the house's past, including the bones that were laid bare in a closet we demolished to create one leg of an L-shaped hallway. We found more bones in two of the rooms behind the paneling which, when removed, took the house down to the studs.

No, this is not a picture of the bones of Cliff's house...whew!
I hope I got your attention. Ok, the "bones" are the skeleton of the house, but it reveals just how the house is put together and what changes were made from the time the house was built around 1905 through its evolution to the almost 2,000 square foot structure it is today.

It was both an ugly reveal once the paneling in two of the rooms was removed and a godsend that behind the paneling there was nothing but studs and insulation. It was an ugly reveal, because that meant...unexpected expenses for sheetrock (drywall). It was a godsend, because it meant that the new interior walls in those rooms would be smooth and seamless and easy to paint. We can create a crisp, fresh look to what might have otherwise been a tired but painted look. Even modern renovations for a historic home to be lived in should be allowed with no fear that the historic house police will come knocking.  You should be jailed, however, for destroying the period elements of a historic house that has not lost its original elements and seek to not only replace windows with period windows and materials. Such a renovation will cost many times over what the original home cost to build. Columbus has many such houses. This is not a picture of Cliff's House,
but it is a good graphic of what Victorian
elements can be included in the design of a
Anyway, the house was built as a Queen Anne Victorian in about 1905 but since then much of the decorative features have been lost; we especially believe on the outside, where fretwork (gingerbread) might have once graced the front porch. The stately and large Queen Anne windows have been replaced with smaller, metal-clad windows, and inside, more history is revealed. The house used to have five fireplaces, but when the first remodel was done to turn the place into commercial offices, the fireplaces were covered over, and so when we were removing the paneling and inset, built in (ugly) shelves were removed, we all hoped that the fireplace mantels had just been framed over and the fireplaces were intact. But just as there was nothing  but bare studs behind the paneling, the overzealous remodelers and destroyers of history demoed out the fireplace mantels, leaving only a gaping brick maw...the jaws if you will of the bones we discovered behind the walls. They destroyed two of the five fireplaces.

During some time over what has to have been several years, the house must have been vacant, and we think that was before the building was converted to offices; during that time, a leak had developed in what we call the center room (might have even been a wide center hallway originally that let off into the four principle rooms of the house, a parlor, a music room, a dining room, and a bedroom). The leak got worse, and when we took down the drop ceilings in that room, the ceiling had suffered a lot of damage, as no doubt did the hardwood floors, there. As a result of the water damage, we believe that a sub-floor was placed over the hardwood and tiles laid on top. We do know there's hardwood under the tile, because we removed a single tile and there it is...hardwood flooring, but we might find, once the tiles are removed that the hardwood flooring in the center of the room, where the roof leaked possibly damaged the hardwood. We're hoping not, but we'll have to remove the tile before we know.

In Cliff's house there are three fighting doors, which we've
alleviated by walling up one of the doors and, just down
the hall, we've walled up another door. By removing the
closet, we opened up that area with much better traffic flow.
What is now a long room off the main bedroom to the back of the house, which we're converting to a laundry room and walk-in closet, was once an outdoor porch, and I believe what is now the hallway at the back of the house might have also been partially an outdoor wall, because there is a transom window over the south door out of the center room leading into the hallway. While the kitchen may have been original to the house, it was cannibalized at some time to create a second bathroom. The kitchen, hallway, and both bathrooms are linoleum, but like the center room, we believe there is hardwood underneath. Our goal is to reveal all the hardwood throughout the house and marry them all together at the doorways, so that the house flows from one room to the next, using the hardwood flooring as the medium that ties the rooms together. We have also removed many of the doors and have demoed out the door sills, so that we're not beset with a house of doors, many of which fought with each other in some of the tighter spaces. For example the short hall had five doors, three of which when fully opened blocked the back door entrance. You had to keep two of the doors shut, just so you could fully open the back door. We've at least removed one of those three doors and will close the doorway into a wall.

So, what we've learned about the history of this house and what the bones tell us is that the house is built like a tank with good wood being used for the original walls, on true 16-inch centers. The wood is actual 2x6, rather than the cheating "2x6" lumber you get now, or worse, some homes are built with 2x4 outside walls. Truly "stick" building. The house was originally floored with hardwood and that has not been removed, there was a moment in time when the house must have stood vacant and the roof leaked, causing some damage to the center room. There have been small additions to the back of the house, and that area was not nearly as neatly designed as the original. Some of the architectural elements have been removed over the years, but what is left is a solid, strong, and a "young" hundred-year-old house. The house has a marvelous crawl space that runs under the entire house with lots of room to maneuver, and the plumbing, duct work, and venting are all under the floor. The house sits on a solid foundation on a rise of land, so it isn't subject to flooding; further, the roof now has architectural-grade shingles and should last for several decades.

The video for this post is once again one of the "Stormy Monday Blues Band" live performances. People here in Columbus were treated to their appearance last week at the Riverwalk.